So it’s almost December and as expected, I’ve totally out-Christmas-ed myself already. It may be only two weeks since I was claiming to love all Christmas songs (with the sole exception of O Come All Ye Faithful) but all that’s a distant, mulled wine-soaked memory. I’ve come to realise there are LOADS festive tunes that I completely loathe. So much so I’ve decided to write a whole blog post about it (not a very original idea, I know, but the whole thing’s been going round my head for so long it’s become necessary for the sake of catharsis).
Today at work I’ve been checking Spanish audio CDs. For a little bit, at least. Then I’ve kept my headphones on and completed other tasks, while still pretending to care about Miguel’s views on global warming. All the while I’ve been secretly listening to Now That’s What I Call Xmas, Disk Three. I bloody love Christmas, me.
The best song on the compilation is Chris de Burgh’s A Spaceman Came Travelling. It is totally ridiculous and totally ace, although my partner and I have disagreements on the actual meaning of the song. I think it’s set at the time of Christ’s birth and that “the spaceman” is the angel who appears to the shepherds (is it Gabriel? Or did he appear to Mary then let someone else have a turn?). My partner, however, thinks the lines “when two thousand years of your time has gone by / This song will begin once again, to a baby’s cry” mean the song is about something that happened 2000 years before Christ was born. But I don’t buy that because …. Well, anyhow, the best bit is when “suddenly the sweetest music filled the air”, because contrary to what you’d expect the sweetest music to sound like, it’s actually de Burgh twatting about on an organ wailing “la la la la la la la la la la” (I certainly wasn’t expecting that):
Other Christmas songs I love are Jonah Lewie’s Stop The Cavalry, The Darkness’ Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) and Greg Lake’s I Believe In Father Christmas (“THE CHRISTMAS WE GET WE DESERVE!!!”). Actually, I pretty much like all of them, even George Cole and Denis Waterman’s Minder-tastic What Are We Gonna Get ‘Er Indoors? (the single of which my dad bought my mum for Christmas in 1983, complete with a gift tag to “”Er Indoors”. How we laughed! And I’ll be honest, comparing a tupperware party to “a telly that only shows Russel Harty” makes me chuckle to this day). I love all Christmas songs, carols included, with the possible exception of O Come All Ye Faithful (“lo! He abhors not a virgin’s womb” has always pissed me off. I know it’s all theological and whatnot, but I take it personally, like my perfect little sons exhibited low standards by occupying a complete slapper’s womb [as in mine] for nine months apiece).
I think it is perfectly reasonable to feel Christmassy by mid November. My eldest has just found out he’ll be a sheep again in this year’s nativity – only this year, it’s a sheep with lines! (“Nothing will happen. Nothing ever happens here. We just sleep and eat grass. It’s what sheep do.” Check out the dramatic irony there!). And they’re setting up the Christmas market in the town where I live (my office also has a Christmas market. I had my own stall last year. Unfortunately, it was there it became obvious that all the stuff my family say about my silk paintings needs to be taken with a massive pinch of salt – but still, this has not crushed my Christmas spirit, nor my willingness to continue palming off all the things that didn’t sell to gushing relatives for another few Christmases to come). On the first weekend of December my partner and I are having a night in Birmingham, just the two of us, where we’ll visit the massive market there and I’ll order mulled wine in German. Then we’ll decorate the house and start wrapping presents and it’ll all be ace (apart from Christmas Day, which has suddenly become a bit too much like hard work now that the relatives come to us. I need to get pregnant or something, then maybe they’ll do the washing up while I have a nap. But then I couldn’t drink. Oh, I’ll think of something).
Anyhow, in the meantime I’d like to have it noted that I am a non-religious, generally non-schmalzy person who happens to think Christmas is fantastic. And that is all I have to say on the matter (for now).
This post was brought to you by a vat of mulled wine. It’s okay, I have the afternoon off work (admittedly to take my son to speech therapy. But hey, I’m not the one who’ll be expected to speak clearly, so that’s okay, right?).
Do you ever go through phases when anything and everything you do appears to be accompanied by an inappropriate theme tune? I’m only asking because a) I’m going through such a phase right now and b) I’m self-obsessed enough to assume this is of interest to everyone else.
Take today, for instance. What with it being my Secret Day Off, I have been in and out of clothes shops, trying on dresses I don’t need and can’t afford (Caitlin Moran advises against this in How To Be A Woman, but … actually, I can’t think of a but. She’s probably right. But anyhow, Moran’s not the boss of me). I’ve just been in Warehouse – a store that now screams WAY TOO YOUNG FOR THE LIKES OF YOU!!! – and have been working my way through a pile of wholly inappropriate frocks for no other reason than they were in the sale. I’d just put on a ridiculous geometric print number and was doing that thing when you go out of the cubicle and pose in front of the bigger mirror, like that’s going to make any sodding difference to how ridiculous you look. And then it happened – they started playing One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful. Continue reading
The other day I was standing by the printer at work, waiting for my own stuff to appear, when I spotted an invoice lying on top. It was for £360 and it was money to be paid to one Chris Brown. My first thought: what the hell are we doing paying money to that violent tosser? Doesn’t he have enough? And, furthermore, is he even any good at copy-editing? My second: Oh, it’s that nice Chris Brown from downstairs. The one who recently went freelance. That’s okay then. I’m sure his skills are second to none. That’s the trouble with Chris Browns: there’s a lot of them about. But not all of them are SfEP approved.
Before his attack on Rihanna there were two things that struck me about Chris Brown (the singer, not the copy-editor). The first was that you cannot seriously pretend to be hard or radical when you are singing sub-boy-band bollocks like With You (and as for “when I’m with you I don’t need money” — well, hands off mine, matey. I’m sure you got enough for that Disney Channel appearance). Continue reading
The title of this post happens to be the title of a song by German popsters Die Prinzen. For some reason, every year, on 1 June, I get this particular song stuck in my head. I have no idea why (unrelated fact: ‘Geburtstag’ is German for ‘birthday’. Interesting, that).
Anyhow, I am feeling frivolous today (for some reason), so have decided to write an entirely unnecessary post about German-language pop music. I think we need more of it, especially in the UK. Then we’d be better at speaking German, and it’d be the German we’d need to know. None of this crap about holidays and the environment. Isn’t it time we learned to express ourselves more meaningfully, through the medium of song? And now, allow me to present to you the meanings that really matter:*
1. Nena – 99 Luftballons. The one German-language song that everyone should know. It’s fucking ace! The music’s tops but the lyrics are fantastic. In fact, it’s a song that makes me want to cry. Except it would be inappropriate, although entirely typical behaviour for an outsider who fetishises German culture and life, and still half believes the Iron Curtain is a real object because that’s what she decided when she was four (to be fair, I also think this about the North and South Poles). The East Germans probably listen to 99 Luftballons and think “yeah, the Cold War was crap, but we were so much kinder to each other. You may have been spying on your neighbour, but he’d be the first to lend you a cup of sugar (which you could then send to the Staasi as ‘evidence’)”. The West Germans probably listen to it and think “yeah, the Cold War was crap, but at least we weren’t giving the Ossis shedloads of money just to piss about with and then letting one of them run the whole fucking country”. Both groups probably think “well, at least we’re now masters of the Eurozone AND we did it without getting rid of the cute Ampelmännchen with the hat on”. And then there’s me in tears, like a complete and utter wanker. David Hasselhof would understand.
2. Die Ärzte – Schrei nach Liebe. Full-on, shouty assault on neo-nazism by top comedy rockers with a serious side. Schrei nach Liebe starts by telling our nazi chums that their violence is just a muted cry for love, and that their jackboots yearn for tenderness, and that they never learned to express themselves, and that their parents never had enough time for them. Then it tells them that they’re arseholes. Repeatedly. That, surely, is the way to deal with these people.
3. Tic Tac Toe – Verpiss dich. Tic Tac Toe were a popular female rap trio who did lots of “issues-y” songs. A bit like a cut-price teutonic Salt ‘n Peppa (who were also a trio if you count DJ Spinderella, which you should considering she “does a hell of a job”). Tic Tac Toe rapped their way through songs on the importance of using a condom (Lech mich am ABC), the badness of drug addiction (Warum?) and the crapness of ex-boyfriends (Ich finde dich scheiße – now there’s one that never features in the ‘giving opinions’ section of the average GCSE spec). The best one was Verpiss dich, though, because it showed how in German you can rhyme “I miss you” with “piss off”. What other language allows you to be poetic about deep, conflicting emotions in such an accurate way?
4. Stefan Raab – Wadde hadde dudde da. This is the song that should have won Eurovision back in 2000, if only for the bit when the lights go out and Stefan’s still there in his light-up costume. Do you know what did win that year? That ‘Fly on the wings of love’ bollocks that later got made into a hit dance tune. A travesty if you ask me. I already knew Stefan’s work back in 2000 because he’d been a popular VJ during the 90s when I lived in Germany. He had a show called TV Total, which itself spawned many ridiculous songs. These included the classic Maschendrahtzaun, which offers a fine commentary on masculinity and chicken wire fences. Yes, Stefan. If you ever be King and you get a crown, it will surely be made of Maschendrahtzaun.
5. Guildo Horn – Guildo hat euch lieb. Another German Eurovision comedy curveball that totally deserved to win but didn’t. Unsurprisingly, Stefan was involved in this too, as writer and conductor. Somewhat more surprisingly Stefan returned to present the contest in Germany in 2011. He must really love Eurovision ’cause if I were him, I’d be dead bitter by now.
6. Der Wolf – Oh Shit Frau Schmidt. Was? Schon kurz vor acht? Das ist schon viel zu spät, was hab’ ich nur gemacht … You know that bit at the end of Love Story, when a dying Ali McGraw says “I used to know all the Mozart Kochel listings” (whatever they are)? Well, I used to know all the lyrics to Oh Shit Frau Schmidt. In your face, McGraw. In case you’re wondering, Oh Shit Frau Schmidt tells the tale of a boy who parties too hard and is late for class (was hab’ ich in der Erste? Mathe, oh shit! Eine Doppelstunde – und dazu noch bei Frau Schmidt!). Frau Schmidt is well cross with him, so he consoles himself later in the day by going to yet another party, where he ends up in bed with a girl who happens to be called Bianca Schmidt:
Diese Name, was fürn Zufall, ist das Schicksal, das ist mir jetzt egal
Denn Fräulein Schmidt ist im Bett optimal
Sie will noch mehr, ich fühl’ die Hand in meinem Schritt
“Wir dürfen nicht zu laut sein, meine Mutter kriegt das mit”
Kaum hat sie das gesagt, kriegt die Zimmertür ‘n Tritt
Rein kommt ihre Mutter, oh mein Gott das ist –
Even if your understanding of German is minimal, I suspect you’ve worked out who the mystery mother’s going to be. Obvious, and yet a total comedy classic. (Der Wolf had another hit with Sei dein eigner Held [‘Be your own hero’]. For some reason, whenever I write emails in German, I want to sign off with this particular phrase. Sadly, the people from whom I’m requesting text permissions never seem hugely impressed.)
7. Westernhagen – Johnny Walker. Classic ode to alcohol dependency. Good to listen to when getting completely off your face with no one else around (NB if you’re with people, you’re meant to sing along to crap like Zehn kleine Jägermeister by Die toten Hosen. This is why, if you move to Germany, you need to develop a drinking-alone habit. God knows, I did).
8. Herbert Grönemeyer – Männer. Imagine the Good Men Project, but as a German-language song from the mid-1980s. Yes, that’s it. Wann ist ein Mann ein Mann? asks Herbert. It’s hard to say. Apparently they’re hard on the outside but they cry in secret. Which is a bit sad really. But to be honest, they deserve it if their relationships between each other and the women in their lives are anything like those portrayed in Besser du gehst jetzt, another of Herb’s misguided classics.
9. Falco – Rock me Amadeus. Austrian popster Falco hits upon the brilliant idea of portraying Mozart as the super-cool pop star of his day. And okay, he got the idea from Peter Schaffer’s 1984 film Amadeus, but who cares. They’re both ace. And here’s a literary factette: the writer ETA Hoffmann was originally called Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann but changed the Wilhelm to Amadeus because he was such a big Mozart fan. This sounds fair enough until you consider that Hoffmann was fifteen when Mozart died. It’s a bit like if I changed my middle name to Kurt Cobain, only that wouldn’t be as bad as I’m not trying to be a grunge hero, whereas Hoffmann was trying (and failing) to be a great composer. Silly Ernst! I bet people really ripped the piss out of him at the time. Still, he did write some exceedingly good tales.
10. Die Sterne – Fickt das System. Speaking a foreign language offers you the chance to be a different person. For instance, I would never, ever buy a song in English called Fuck the System. I’d be scared that doing so would make me into a total twat. And yet I’ve not just bought the Fickt das System single; I bought the whole sodding EP (although to be fair, I’m not sure the single was an option back then). Anyhow, I love Die Sterne and their sharp, grumpy rantings about the ultimate crapness of modern life. I like all their stuff, but favourites include Das bisschen besser (my PhD write-up tune) and Universal Tellerwäscher (my phone ringtone). And then there’s Was hat dich bloß so ruiniert? (i.e. why are you such a miserable sod, you privileged middle-class knobhead? A genius track, directed, one presumes, at all Sterne fans, yet lapped up by all, including me).
Well, thus ends a very self-indulgent post. I’m off to open some objects which my children have, for some reason, wrapped up for me in brightly coloured paper. Then it’s off for a weekend away (alas Birmingham, not Berlin), so no more blogging till later.
So if you have read this far, bye for now. And remember – sei dein eigener Held!
* This entire post is from what I remember, not having lived in Germany since 1997. I’m counting on no one who actually knows anything about German-language pop reading it.
It is bedtime. Youngest has just had his milk and he’s lying snuggled up with Monkey while I stroke his fluffy little head. At times like this we sometimes chat, mother and child together. And that is what we did this evening, when he asked me about the circumstances of his birth.
HIM Where was I born?
ME You were born in a car park in Cheltenham.
HIM But we now live on Earth?
ME Yes, but … Cheltenham is a place on Earth.
HIM Cheltenham is a place on Earth?
ME Yes, Cheltenham is a place on Earth
ME And actually that sounds really funny, because there’s a song called “Heaven is a Place on Earth” by a lady called Belinda Carlisle.
ME And in fact, it’s even more funny than that, because Mummy was actually born in Carlisle. So if there’s a song called “Cheltenham is a Place on Earth” – which, okay, there isn’t – there should also be a song called “Carlisle is a Place on Earth”.
ME And if there is such a song, it ought to be performed by eighties pop group Heaven 17.
[Even longer pause]
HIM Mummy, can I go to sleep now?
ME Um, alright.
And so I switched off the light and kissed his little button nose, all the while musing on the fact that “Carlisle is a Place on Earth” performed by Heaven 17 just would be brilliant. Anyone know if they’re still together?
(NB Title of this post is to be read out, even if just in your head, in the booming style of the Muppet Show’s Pigs in Space.)
Last week I had lunch with a friend and her 4-week-old baby. It was all going swimmingly. Nice gastropub, goat’s cheese salad on table, ultra-cute babe on tit – what could possibly go wrong? And then it happened. Wafting over from the loudspeakers behind the bar came one of the worst pop songs known to man, but especially to woman. Oh yes, it was bad. Reader, it was none other than The J. Geils Band with the objectification-fest that is My Angel is the Centrefold.
Now I happen to know this song rather well, since it appears on a cassette of no. 1s from 1982, which I bought from Woolworths in 1998 (Jesus, I am old enough to have double-layered nostalgia trips). In my defence, I only chose said cassette because another of the songs on it is an absolute classic, at least for anyone who adores hilariously serious, tremendously overblown lyrical extravaganzas (hint: I do). That song is of course Africa by Toto. In case you have somehow missed out on its glories, here is the best bit, i.e. the second verse:
The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what’s right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
Isn’t that just fantastic? It’s not just the sheer incomprehensibility of the dogs and their desire for “solitary company” – that last line is a work of pure genius. I have in fact tried to get it into common parlance:
MY BOSS: Are you sure we’re going to make those margins on a project like this?
ME: Yes, of course. Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.
Alas, it hasn’t worked so far. But that’s probably because we did not in fact make those margins after all. I’ll try it with another project.
Anyhow, back to J. Geils and his band. Theirs is a tale, not of wild dogs and mountains that look like cameras, but of having dated a wicked woman who dares to switch sides between the virgins and the whores. The first verse sets the scene:
Does she walk, does she talk, does she come complete
My home-brew, home-room angel, just pulled me to my feet
She was pure like snowflakes, no one could ever stain
The memory of my angel could never cause me pain
The years go by I’m looking through a girly magazine
And there’s my homegrown angel on the pages in between.
SLAG! SLAG! Where are your homegrown snowflakes now, bitch? I mean, what were you thinking? Years ago, sometime in the late seventies, you let this poor man cop a feel and now you’re acting as though your body’s your own, to do with as you please? Don’t you see the effect this is having on his peace of mind? Just listen to the chorus:
My blood runs cold, my memory has just been sold
My angel is the centrefold.
Now see what you’ve done! This poor man’s in shock, so much shock that he can’t even take the opportunity to form a decent pun (something along the lines of “mammaries have just been sold”. Well, that’s what I’d have done). Anyhow, be thankful that by the final verse he’s pulled himself together a little, at least far enough to see a future in which he buys the magazine nonetheless and still deigns to shag you, albeit in a nice, personal, totally non-sleazy hotel-room context:
It’s OK, I understand, this ain’t no never never land
I hope that when this issue’s gone I see you when your clothes are on
Take your car, yes we will, we’ll take your car and drive
Take it to a hotel room and take ‘em off in private
A part of me has just been ripped, angels from my mind are stripped
Oh no I can’t hide it, oh yes I guess I gotta buy it
At this point words (nearly) fail me. Ladies of OBJECT, I am not normally one for censorship, but please can you get them to do something about this fucking awful song being played in public places, particularly places in which women are getting their own baps out and four-week-old girl babies are trying to have a feed in peace without their entire future as virgin-whore being laid out before them? THIS NEEDS TO STOP NOW. If we only ban one song from 1982, please let it be this (I really mean this. You’re getting a free pass, Renee and Renate).
Of course, let’s not pretend that pop songs about slags getting their tits out ended in the early eighties. In the nineties we had The Beautiful South with the utterly dire 36D. The Beautiful South are all serious and political, and have names like Dave and Paul, so it’s not quite what you get from The J. Geils Band. Oh no, with The South we have, in embryonic form, the ponderously “thoughtful” sleaze that finally came to full fruition in 2012 with the Good Men Project. But wait, I’m getting way ahead of myself here (and also a tad obsessed with the Good Men tit thing). Let’s first take a look at the opening verse of 36D:
Close your legs, open your mind
Leave those compliments well behind
Dig a little deeper into yourself
And you may find
Now this isn’t a typo – they don’t actually say what “you may find”. But anyhow, close your legs, ladies, and have a bit of a ponder. After all, you’re in polite company.
Come over here just sit right downNeedn’t comb your hair, needn’t pout or frownI hear you’ve turned our young men
Into dribbling clowns
Right. Now, is it just me, or is this all getting JUST A TAD PATRONIZING? No, I WILL NOT come and sit next to you, Dave Rotheray. I’m busy with my straighteners. Look, I know you’re just concerned (The men who run the business that you sell, they screw you too). And I know you find my availability somewhat disconcerting (you’re Steven’s, you’re Andy’s, you’re Ian’s, your Paul’s ). But I do not need any of this “poor little slag-whore” business, particularly given the chorus you’ve then come up with:
36 D, so what, D, so what
Is that all that you’ve got?
What’s all that about? 36D may not seem massive to you, mate, but Bravissimo do bras in that size, and that shop’s exclusively for “women who love their curves”.
The fact is, so often people claim that pop music’s too sexualised, but I think we need to remember that there’s a rich vein of pop music by men freaked out by women getting their tits out, particularly if said women are getting paid for it. Not long after The Beautiful South we get Babybird with “You’re gorgeous”:
You said I wasn’t cheapYou gave me £20You promised to put me in a magazine
On every table in every lounge
I have to say, I’ve done far worse for less. Cleaning tables at Tebay Services, for instance (£1.60 an hour! Even in 1989 it was shit! If I’d had tits back then, I’d have been straight to the walk-in freezer to rub some ice-cubes on them in the hope that someone, anyone, would snap me till it hurts).
I was about to claim that we should leave tit-songs to women only. Milkshake by Kellis is a tit-song, for instance. It’s hard to identify this in the lyrics, but you just know it is. It’s not “milkshake” bringing all the boys to the yard; it’s tits (but let’s not confuse this; I don’t think these are breastmilk milkshakes, although actually, I suppose they could be). On the strength of Milkshake, I was on the verge of saying that women are the masters of the tit-song, on account of having tits. But then I remembered Fergie and My Humps (my humps, my humps, my lovely lady-lumps). No. Let’s not go there. Let’s stay well away.
So where do we go from here, in what has become an interminably long post on a subject I wasn’t even aware I cared so much about? Well, here’s my proposal: moob songs. Lots of songs in which women tell men that yes, they love them, but for their minds, and they should really put those moobs away. Especially with summer coming. It’s not what we want on a hot summer’s day, ice-cream dripping and moobs-a-dangling. And so, to the tune of 36D:
Come over here, just sit right down
Forget the comb-over, needn’t pout or frown
I’ve found you a nice T-Shirt
Would you prefer it in brown?
I’ve got the receipt, so what, receipt, so what
Shall we go back to the shop?
Well, look, it’s a start. I didn’t say I was a lyrical genius. But I’ll come up with something even more catchy, believe me, I will. Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.